After a depressing 5-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night, the Buffalo Sabres didn’t have a much easier task in front of them Sunday afternoon. They came home to face the Detroit Red Wings, who came into Sunday with a record of 11-6-1. But the Sabres found some energy in front of the home crowd, scored first, and held on for a 3-2 shootout win.
Even the optimists didn’t come into Sunday’s game expecting a win. The Sabres came into Sunday with 12 goals in 12 games. One goal per game isn’t going to do much, even with the competitive goaltending that both Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth have provided. The discouraged Sabres would often seem to give up as soon as they fell behind by even a goal.
Ted Nolan, frustrated with the lack of effort he was seeing, especially after a dismal 10 shots on goal in last Tuesday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, ran the toughest practice of the season Wednesday morning. The practice lasted 85 minutes. Chris Stewart exploded at his teammates. Nolan flipped out on Cody Hodgson, who was demoted to the fourth line. Brian Gionta destroyed his stick out of frustration.
And something snapped. The Sabres took on the Boston Bruins on Thursday and were able to push the game into overtime before losing 3-2. Saturday’s loss was a tough one in Pittsburgh, but to put it in perspective, Buffalo struggled against Pittsburgh last year too.
And so Sunday came. Saturday night no longer seemed to be on the Sabres’ minds. The Sabres played hard, killed all five penalties they took, and kept the game close.
“We put last night behind us and came to play,” Neuvirth said.
It was a game of unlikely heroes for the Sabres. Brian Flynn, who has only played in four games so far, scored the Sabres’ first goal 6:55 into the second period. Tomas Tatar tied the game exactly six minutes later before Pavel Datsyuk scored the go-ahead goal for Detroit 4:27 into the third. It stayed that way for a while, before Chris Stewart finally scored his first goal of the season with just 6:52 remaining to tie the game at two. Defenseman Tyson Strachan, playing in just his fourth game of the season, assisted both Sabres goals and now has three assists on the season.
Stewart’s goal trickled into the net, and he was tempted to give it an extra push – with his head.
“I almost thought about head-butting it in, and it kind of rolled up the edge there and went in,” he said after the game. “Sometimes you need some luck to score some goals.”
It could be considered luck that saved the Sabres from an overtime loss as well. Halfway through the overtime period, Henrik Zetterberg put the puck in the net for Detroit. But then the goal was reviewed, it was established that Johan Franzen was in the crease, and the goal was waved off.
The Sabres and Red Wings went to the shootout, and Zemgus Girgensons scored the shootout winner for the Sabres to give them the 3-2 win.
But Stewart doesn’t feel that it was just luck that helped the Sabres pick up their first home win. They didn’t give up when they were down.
“I thought we had a really good first period. I thought we were on our toes,” he said. “We kind of died off in the second, and then in the third, once we were down, we got back on our toes and started getting pucks in and controlling the forecheck and going hard to the net, and that has to be the team we are.”
Ted Nolan was proud of his team for fighting hard and not backing down. He pointed out the Sabres’ record over the past five games, which includes wins over the San Jose Sharks as well as the Red Wings.
“The last five games we’re 2-2-1, which is not bad,” Nolan said after the game.
Chris Stewart is ready to put October behind him and satisfied with the direction the Sabres are headed.
“We got off to a rough start in October, we turn the page to November, and we’re off to a good start,” Stewart said.